Review: 300 (2006)

D: Zack Snyder
S: Gerard Butler, Lena Headley, Dominic West, David Wenham

Setting the stage a little bit, there are two classic loves of my life: Greek mythology & history, and comic books.  So you can imagine my anticipation when the adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic book series was announced.  A lot of people have focused on the historical inaccuracies in the movie - but in my opinion, that's what allows 300 to transcend the classic historical epic formula and come into its own as an amazing retelling of a classic story from the very beginnings of the history of man.

The most telling part of the presentation of 300 is that it is told in retrospect, by a Spartan warrior who wasn't there for the final battle.  In fact, no Spartan that was present survived, so it is impossible to know what truly happened.  This is the glory of the oral history tradition, and the embellishments that Snyder and Miller took in the story (either the comic or the adaptation) are true homages to oral history.  The survivors tell the story - whether that's the victors of the battle, or those who were spared death by destiny or compassion.  And here we have one vision of that glorious three-day battle between a small force of fierce warriors and an insanely overpowered invading force.

The movie is absolutely beautiful, even in its violence.  Yes, there is blood.  Yes, there is gore.  But it's presented in such a way that it is not shocking, orchestrated on-screen in a fashion that more closely resembles dance than fighting.  The visuals are striking, and you can see many of the best-remembered scenes from the comic book rendered in live action (the Persian forces being pushed back off the cliffs of Thermopylae, for example).  This alone makes it an amazing achievement, as we all know the difficulties in rendering comic books to film, at least in the recent past.

The story is simple in its themes and storyline.  The minor complications that are introduced really become more like distractions than side-plots, though seeing the machinations of Theron played out while Leonidas is facing death is a very well-played classic machination of Greek drama (the chaos that Odysseus returns home to find, for example). 

There's probably a lot to analyze in the militaristic vision of perfection that is displayed in the film, and many people want to say it's a comment on the current situation in America...however, the comic itself was written long before the days of Iraq and Al take those views for what they're worth.  The fact is, Spartans were born and bred as warriors (though not necessarily "free men" nor proponents of true freedom), and this movie simply takes that view as its basis, and runs with it.  There probably was not a single fighting force in the world that could take on the entirety of the Spartan army, and the 300 (-ish) Spartan warriors that faced the Persian army on the cliffs of Thermopylae probably did more to delay the inevitable than any other army at the time could have.

This film is truly a masterwork and a great example of how to translate a timeless story from history and mythology into something that's entertaining, poignant, and relevant to moviegoers today.